Speed skydiving in principle sounds like a high-octane, extreme discipline in skydiving. However, when you hear it’s a solo sport, you then think it “sounds boring”. But it is anything but boring and it’s for one simple reason; speed skydiving has a unique adrenaline-filled freefall sensation. It feels like those first few seconds of normal freefall where you accelerate rapidly, but throughout the entire speed skydive.
Speed skydiving is measured as an average over the vertical kilometer (from 8,858 to 5,577ft). That means if you do it well, you can expect to reach your peak speed at the bottom end of the measuring gate. Some skydivers say it is hard to quantify what normal terminal velocity is, however in speed skydiving it’s definitely more tangible. The sensation is of freefalling seriously fast and that’s slightly scary whilst giving you a big adrenaline rush!
Who Am I?
I jump regularly at Skydive Hibaldstow primarily doing FS team camera work and wingsuiting. Although I have never been on the International Speed Skydiving circuit or a speed skydiving training camp, I always try to attend the UK Speed Skydiving Nationals and seminars. I’m not a freeflyer and I’m not even the best speed skydiver, but I have been enjoying it for 9 years.
Doing It Well
Doing it well is another matter of course. I have never done an average of over 270mph, whereas Mark Calland (UK jumper) has been over 300mph unbelievably. Speed skydiving requires you to strike a 3-way balance between feeling the airflow on your body, making fine corrections and relaxing. Putting too much input in or being too ridged and it’s all going to go pear-shaped.
What to wear plays big part of getting a good average. Some speed skydivers like to wear bright red all-PVC spray on gimp-suits. Sorry but that is too kinky for me! If you can handle them, you can get some good speeds. Many more however prefer to wear a surfers rash vest and some jeans. The jeans help to smooth the airflow, provide some good stability and grip.
A Typical Speed Skydive
So let me describe a typical speed skydive. I get out of the aircraft between 12,000 to 13,000ft (the same altitude as the 8-way jumpers at nationals) and for the first 15 seconds, I slowly start to build up my speed by going into a progressively steeper and steeper track. After what feels like a long time, I begin to feel the air on the back of my calves. This is when I know I am now in the vertical airflow phase of the jump.
Around this point, I feel a sudden acceleration and I know I am passing the 200mph mark. It’s almost like I’m passing through a pressure wave and this is common amongst other speed skydivers. For extra speed, I try to flatten my arms by my hips and bring my ankles together.
Not long after, I pass through the opening gate of the measured kilometer. By then, I am already doing over 230mph. At this measuring phase of the jump, I’m concentrating on stability with every nerve cell in my body. Ideally, I’m trying not to make any inputs in at all. In fact, I’m trying to relax whilst balancing on what feels like a pinhead. Another sensation is like falling through an invisible narrow tube barely wide enough for my shoulders. I’m talking a lot about sensations in this article, but that is one of the big attractions to the discipline.
Being symmetrical is also very important. A slight hip twist, one leg in front of the other and I can expect radical oscillations. Simply relaxing often cures the problem and I can continue to job of accelerating away.
The final and most important part of the speed skydive is the deceleration to 120mph! I do this when I hear my two L&B; audibles beeping away inside my Oxygn fullface helmet. For those that don’t know, I’m completely deaf in one ear. So I pack them next to each other. You wouldn’t want to miss your beeps at those speeds.
Pulling out of a 250mph swoop is not as gruesome as it sounds. You simply arch your body slightly and you begin to peel out into a swoop. As the speed decreases, you then bring your arms in front of you to a normal flat body position. All this takes less than 4 seconds and this makes you realise how fast you were actually going.
Once you land, you unclip the two L&B; Pro-Tracks (not the ones from your helmet) from you harness lateral straps and plug them into the Jump Track software, which produces neat and tidy graphs showing your performance. In competition, each competitor does 6 rounds and the average of their best 3 go forwards.
It’s exciting watching the scores come in and seeing your own progression. You would be surprised that being a fatty has little to do with going fast. I’m on the slim side and 2 out of the 5 worlds fastest recorded times have been by other slim built skydivers.
Having a premature opening of your parachute over 200mph is extremely dangerous. In preparation for a speed skydive, I take a fresh closing loop and shorten it to the point where I can only just get the closing pin in. In addition, I make sure I have two audibles in my helmet and I put gaffer tape on the edges of the visor of my full face.
There should be no more than three speed skydivers on a load to prevent traffic problems. The first and last part of the jump involve tracking and it’s possible to cover large distances quickly. Being able to keep a heading is vital.
The last thing is that your BOC spandex must be in good condition.
There are very few disciplines where you can feel how fast you are going and that makes it a real adrenaline buzz. Whilst it is a solo discipline, there is a lot of excited interaction and camaraderie between the jumpers at competitions as they evaluate each other’s jumps and acceleration graphs. You can take part without having to do lots of coached training camps. It’s definitely not boring!
Doesn’t covering a vertical kilometer in less than 10 seconds sound like fun?